Recently, as I was alley hopping on my lunch hour, I stumbled upon a shop in Opera Alley that I can’t believe I had previously overlooked. A shin-height crudely painted Fibers Etc. sandwich sign placed in the middle of the sidewalk made an old-fashioned statement that was tough to ignore. Its simplicity beckoned to me, called me inside, encouraged me to risk encountering eager salespeople who might ruin my meandering mood.
I entered a long, colorful hallway populated with racks of instructional materials flanked by knitted creations that I could actually see myself wearing. I was sucked into the core of the shop, a naturally lit space where yarns, threads, needles, other tools I can’t name, and a vast array of buttons were housed – all patiently waiting for buyers. I drank in the walls of yarn wanting to get intimate with each skein, cupping them in my palms, squeezing them, rubbing their softness against my cheeks. Fortunately, there were no you-touch-it, you-own-it warnings posted.
The unique collection of fibers and yarns at Fibers Etc. is tempting to even the most artistically challenged. (That’s me.) The floor-to-ceiling displays storing quality yarns made of linen, silk, alpaca, wool, soy, sugar cane, bamboo, cotton, paper, tencel (recycled wood pulp), and yarn/metal combinations entice their viewers to explore the textile garden.
“Every shop reflects its buyer,” says owner Roberta Lowes. “I love color and texture, so I carry a lot of handwoven and hand-dyed yarns, but I also am conscious of buying for others.” Her sources are near and far with products coming from Colorado, Florida, Peru, Bolivia, and Japan.
Fibers Etc. has been in its current location for more than 20 years, although Roberta (knitter, weaver, textile artist) has been a fiber entrepreneur in the Tacoma area for more than 30 years. The majority of Roberta’s customers are knitters who are young mothers or grandmothers. However, she does have a significant body of male knitters who she describes as fearless.
“They are taking on complex projects that many of my women customers would not attempt,” she says.
Fibers Etc. is not just a store; it’s a studio. They are staffed with friendly experts and enthusiasts who not only sell knitting, crocheting, and weaving supplies, but teach classes and clinics to help you actually turn your purchases into something. You might make some new friends along the way too. Fibers Etc. also partners with local colleges and organizations to host classes. In September, Roberta worked with the Japanese Arts Connection Lab to host an event featuring visiting Professor Azumi Hosoda who provided instruction (via translator) on Japanese fabric dying and marbling techniques.
After discovering the shop, I was inspired to resurrect my dormant knitting skills acquired in childhood. I convinced myself to brave the Wednesday afternoon clinic and ask for help. I was greeted by the smell of coffee and a woman named Winn. I stammered out my purpose and humble beginnings with potholders. She quickly helped me choose a gorgeous teal yarn made of alpaca, bamboo medium-sized needles, and a blanket project – all suitable choices for a beginner. I joined the other women at the table. While Winn worked her way around the table answering the others’ project questions, Erica helped me cast on – get the first loops on the needle. Winn returned and got me started making stitches, encouraging me while I clumsily wrapped yarn around needles and struggled to transfer loops from one needle to the other.
“If you pinch the needles together like this while you wrap the yarn around, they won’t slide out of the loops,” she instructed. “Knitting is a great stress reliever.”
I raised my eyebrows. I watched the French-trained knitter sliding the needles and yarn through her fingers with finesse. She looked at me and smiled. “Help yourself to some coffee or tea. And try Erica’s almond bars. They’re fabulous! She trained at Le Cordon Bleu you know.”
I continued to spastically transfer loops from one needle to the next while listening to Winn, Carolyn, Rita, Erica, Lori, Claudia, and Jeanine chat. They shared their current projects and goals, childhood memories, favorite bands and restaurants, children’s and grandchildren’s personality traits, and discussed upcoming events. I felt lucky to witness this sharing circle reminiscent of past times. Yes, knitting was relaxing. By the end of the evening, I had learned the difference between knitting, purling, frogging, and tinking. Plus, I created the beginnings of a blanket that my husband thought was a G-string and our son’s Rottweiler mistook for his new ball. Yes, I will return to the clinic as much for the socializing and the help.
October 21-23 is Socktoberfest Yarn Crawl at Fibers Etc.
Fibers Etc. is located at 705 Opera Alley, Tacoma, WA 98402. If you’re interested in classes or more information, call 253-572-1859.